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Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani





Busy Day For Asean Leaders At Summit, Arroyo Denies Coup Attempt

14/12/05 KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- The denial of a reported plot in the Philippines to oust President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stole the thunder on the second day of the 11th Asean Summit here Tuesday.

However, it did not stop Asean leaders from engaging in productive discussions to chart ways for greater socio-economic cooperation with their counterparts from India, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

The meetings held yesterday were the 9th Asean-Japan Summit, 9th Asean-South Korea Summit, 4th Asean-India Summit and 1st Asean-Russia Summit. The Asean-China Summit was held on Monday.

Philippine presidential spokesperson and Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye, who dismissed the attempted coup report as "coffee shop talk", said it was a rumour being paddled by some segments of the opposition in Manila.

Arroyo is in the Malaysian capital to attend the Asean summit and related summits as well as the inaugural East Asia Summit until Wednesday.

Confident of the armed forces' unwavering loyalty to the president, Bunye said: "The members of the uniformed services are loyal to the constitution and chain of command."

Despite the reported "red alert" that had been declared at home since Arroyo left to attend the summit, the president appeared unperturbed and was seen smiling during the meetings.

At the meetings, she mooted several proposals. Among them an anti-terrorism cooperation between Asean and countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation consisting of Russia, China and the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

She also offered the use of the Philippines' Subic Bay Terminal Freeport to set up a regional fuel stockpile in efforts to secure energy resources for Asean countries.

In making the gesture, Arroyo said "Asean should be able to work more effectively to secure energy resources for our region".

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had a busy day chairing the four summits. He said Asean was looking at Japan and South Korea for cooperation to address the gap in information and communication technology (ICT) among member countries.

Asean, he said, recognised the advancement in ICT made by Japan and South Korea and was keen to cooperate with both countries in order to narrow the digital divide within the region.

On the sidelines of the summits, Malaysia inked a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan, the first-ever FTA signed by Kuala Lumpur.

The pact is expected to further strengthen and enhance economic and industrial cooperation on a long-term basis apart from creating favourable conditions for bilateral trade and investment.

Kuala Lumpur also signed an agreement with Russia, where Moscow offered to reduce tariffs for 438 Malaysian products, a move that is set to raise trade volume to a significantly higher level.

The products included palm oil, margarine, palm kernel oil, plywood, veneered panels, laminated wood, chemical products, electrical and electronic products, rubber products, fish products, coffee, tea, pepper and furniture.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Kuala Lumpur to join his counterparts from the 10 Asean member countries for the landmark Asean-Russia Summit, witnessed the signing of the agreement.

After having been Asean's dialogue partner for the last 10 years, Russia's relations with the region are set to enter a new era with the convening of the summit.

Relations between Asean and the major power were cemented by the signing of the Asean-Russia Joint Declaration on Progressive and Comprehensive Partnership.

During the Asean-India Summit, leaders of the 10-member grouping expressed their concern over India's proposal to exclude a large number of products from tariff concessions under the FTA.

Abdullah said the establishment of the Asean-India FTA would make "our engagement more meaningful and substantive, and also reflect the rising stature of India".

"In this context, we urge India to positively consider Asean's position and, given India's own `Look East Policy', place top priority on relations with Asean," he said.

President Putin, who arrived at noon Tuesday amid tight security, also attended lunch with participants of the nascent East Asia Summit (EAS), comprising leaders of Asean, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. The EAS will be held today.

On the sidelines of the summit, Thailand expressed satisfaction with the assistance and cooperation rendered by Malaysia in tackling the ongoing violence in southern Thailand.

Thai Foreign Minister Dr Kantathi Suphamongkhon said Bangkok hoped to continuously work closely with Kuala Lumpur in the matter.